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Item 3, How the Wise Man Taught His Son


Abbreviations: Whiting: Whiting, Proverbs, Sentences and Proverbial Phrases.

Title No title or incipit. The text begins eight lines down the page of fol. 6r. The title used here is based on line 3, and has been used to designate the poem since Fischer’s edition.

7 yerne that is evyll spon. Proverbial; see Whiting W571.

10 fully fiftene wynter of age. This seems to have been a traditional threshold for the entry of young men into adulthood. As Salisbury notes in her edition, in several Middle English romances the heroes undergo various changes at or near age fifteen. See, for example, line 139 of Sir Gowther, ed. Laskaya and Salisbury, Middle English Breton Lays, p. 278.

13 his faderes ayer. English laws of inheritance were based on strict principles of pri­mogeniture, meaning that the oldest male heir would acquire a very large portion of his father’s estate. As this stanza suggests, with such privileges came extra responsibilities.

21 Go se thi God in form of bred. For the importance and benefits of habitual attendance at Mass, see A Prayer at the Levation (item 17). See also the “Instructions for a Devout and Literate Layman,” discussed in the introduction to this text.

42 late feyre wordys be thi yerd. Beating one’s wife for the purposes of “correction” or discipline was socially acceptable and entirely legal. But as this stanza suggests, other methods of establishing the husband’s authority over the wife were occa­sionally recommended by moralists.

48 To calle hyr wykyd, it is thy schame. Compare Idley’s Instructions, book 1, lines 1240–44: “She is part of thy body, remembre this, / And to dispise thy flesshe thou were to blame, / Or hurt it in ony maner kynde iwysse; / Defoule thou never thyn owne name, / Use not unclenly wordis, fy for shame!”

51 Bot sofer. The advice here suggests the development of the idea of a companionate marriage based on love and relative equality, visible in Idley’s In­structions and other works from this period.

65 Thys werld is bote fantesye. This is a traditional sentiment of many Middle English mortality lyrics; see, for example, Vanity (item 40).

68 It farys as a chery feyre. Proverbial; Whiting W662. A cherry festival would by necessity be a short-lived celebration. See Chaucer, Troilus and Criseyde, 5. 1840–41.

72 Not have tyme to ete a hene. I.e., “no time to enjoy it.” Though the idiom sounds proverbial, it is not recorded by Whiting or Tilley.

100a AMEN QUOD RATE. Underneath this colophon in the bottom margin is one of Rate’s usual drawings of a smiling fish.


Abbreviations: see Explanatory Notes

25 worschype. MS: worscype.

46 caule her. MS: caule he.

59 spyte. MS: spye.

61 thi. MS: th.

67 beware the. MS: be the.

72 Not have tyme. MS: Not a tyme.

92 Therfor purchasse paradyce. MS: Ther purchasse for paradyce.

100 chyld that was in. MS: chyld that w in.










fol. 6v     











Lordyngys, and ye wyll here
How a wyse man taught hys sone,
Take god hede to this mater,
And fynd to lerne it yf ye canne.
This songe for younge men was begon
To make them trew and stedfaste;
For yerne that is evyll spon,
Evyll it comes out at the laste.

It was a wyse man had a chyld
Was fully fiftene wynter of age,
Of maneres he was meke and myld,
Gentyll of body and of usage.
Bycause he was his faderes ayer,
His fader thus on this langage
Taught his sone wele and feyre,
Gentyll of kynd and of corage.

And seyd, “Son, have this worde in herte,
And thynke theron when I ame dede:
Every dey thi fyrst werke —
Loke it be don in every sted —
Go se thi God in form of bred,
And thanke thi God of his godnesse,
And afterward, sone, be my rede,
Go do thi werldys besynesse.

“Bot fyrst worschype God on the dey,
And thou wyll have to thi mede
Skylfully what thou wyll praye.
He wylle thee send withouten dred,
And send thee all that thow hast nede,
Als ferre as mesure wyll destreche.
Luke mesurly thy lyfe thou lede,
And of the remynant ther thee not reche.

“And, son, thi tonge thou kepe also,
And tell not all thyngys that thou maye,
For thi tonge may be thy fo.
Therfor, my son, thynke what I sey,
Wher and when that thou schall praye,
And be whom that thou seyst owht;
For thou may sey a word todey,
That seven yere after may be forthought.

“With love and awe thi wyfe thou chastys,
And late feyre wordys be thi yerd;
For awe it is the best gyse
For to make thi wyfe aferd.

“Sone, thi wyfe thou schall not chyde,
Ne caule her by no vylons name;
For sche that schall ly by thy syde,
To calle hyr wykyd, it is thy schame.
When thou schall thy wyfe defame,
Welle may another man do so;
Bot sofer, and a man may tame
Hert and hynd and the wyld ro.

“Sone, be thou not gelos by no weye,
For if thou fall in gelosye,
Late not thi wyfe wyte be no weye;
For thou mayst do no more folye.
For if thi wyfe myght ons aspye
That thou to her wold not tryste,
In spyte of all thi fantysye,
To wreke hyr werst, that is herre lyste.

“Son, unto thi God pay welle thi tythe,
And pore men of thy gode thou dele.
Ageyn the devell be stronge and styfe,
And helpe thi soule fro peyne of helle.
Thys werld is bote fantesye fele,
And dey by dey it wylle apare.
Therfor beware the werldys wele:
It farys as a chery feyre.

“Many man here gederes gode
All hys lyfe tyme for odour men,
That he may not — be the rode —
Not have tyme to ete a hene.
When he is dolven in his den,
Another schall come at the last ende,
And have hys wyfe and catell than;
That he has sparyd another wyll spende.

“For all that ever a man doth here
With bysenes and travell bothe,
All this is, withouten were,
Not bot for mete and drynke and clothe;
More getys he not, withouten hothe.
Kyng ne prince whether he be,
Be he lefe or be he lothe,
A pore man schall have als mych as he.

“Therfor sone, be my counselle,
More than inowghe thou never covete.
Thou wotyst not when deth wylle thee asayll;
This werld is bot deth and debate.
Loke thou be not to hyghe of state.
By ryches here sette thou no price;
For this werld is full of deseyt;
Therfor purchasse paradyce.

“For deth, my chylde, is, as I trow,
The most ryght serteyn it is;
Nothing so unserteyn to unknow,
As is the tyme of deth, iwys.
And therfor sone, thinke onne thys,
And all that I have seyd beforne,
And Jhesu bryng us to his blysse,
The chyld that was in Bedlem borne.”
Gentlemen, if you will hear; (see note)

try to learn

yarn that is badly spun; (see note)

[Who] was; (see note)

father’s heir; (see note)
in these words

nature; disposition

      in the form of the Host (the Eucharist); (see note)

by my advice


all that you have need [of]
As far as moderation will allow
See that you lead your life moderately
And that you do not overreach

can [speak of]

to whom you say anything


fear (reverence); chastise
stick; (see note)

call her by no shameful name; (t-note)

(see note)

But be patient; (see note)
roe (small) deer

jealous in any way

realize it in any way

have faith in her
delusion (longing); (t-note)
To do her worst, that will be her desire

share your goods with poor men
Against; resolute

only a glorious illusion; (see note)
world’s riches; (t-note)
goes past like a cherry festival; (see note)

gathers goods

by the cross
hen; (see note); (t-note)
buried in his grave

goods then
What; saved

without doubt

without doubt
Whether he is either
Whether he wishes or not

know not
too proud
set you no value


as I trust
certain [thing] there is
Nothing so unknowable and uncertain

Bethlehem; (t-note)
(see note)

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